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The Ending Of The Midnight Meat Train Explained

Long before Bradley Cooper headed into The Shallows with Lady Gaga, he was a photographer who dug too deep into New York's subway in a Clive Barker adaptation heavy on gore and surprisingly high on lizard people. It was a wild combination that all arrived by way of "The Midnight Meat Train," the 2008 slaughter-fest directed by Ryûhei Kitamura. With an estimated budget of $15 million (via The Numbers), the film drew in a poor box-office result of $3.5 million (via Box Office Mojo), was released in only 100 U.S. theaters before quickly going to DVD, but was met with a welcoming reception from critics. The film currently holds a 73% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where it was deemed by many as a cult classic in the making, and even left Variety's Rob Nelson making comparisons to the Rutger Hauer-starred horror "The Hitcher."

Based on the short story from Barker's 1984 novella "Books of Blood," the film saw Cooper as Leon, a struggling photographer who, to win a big deal with an art exhibitionist (Brooke Shields), wanders the dark nights of New York to get the winning pictures. Through his desperation to uncover the city's seedy side, he crosses paths with Mahogany (Vinnie Jones), a serial killer whose hunting ground is the deathly quiet subway where several passengers meet a grisly demise. Soon, his terror becomes a twisted dose of obsession to learn more about the mysterious "Subway Butcher," one that leads Leon down a track he can never come back from.

Leon gets marked for greater things after his first battle with Mahogany

After following Mahogany into the late midnight hours, Leon's terrifying theories are confirmed when he witnesses the psychopath in a suit brutally murder and preserve his victims by hanging them on hooks in the carriage. The mute with a hammer catches the eyewitness, whom he incapacitates, leaving Leon to pass out. During this time, the photographer phases in and out where he sees some very non-human hands checking his body, eventually waking in Mahogany's slaughterhouse with strange markings carved into his chest. Leon's girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb) is understandably concerned about her boyfriend's behavior and shares his recent obsession with their friend Jurgis (Roger Bart). Together, they agree on the bright idea of tracking down Mahogany's home and breaking in with the full hope absolutely nothing terrible will happen.

With the killer out and about, the two discover an unnecessary amount of sharp implements and tools in his home, along with jars of Mahogany's skin nodules that he has been removing and storing. While this is never explained, this, along with the occasional bouts of him coughing up blood, suggests that Mahogany isn't the No. 1 killer he used to be and is weakening. If only he could get a replacement to take over the dirty work. Speaking of mysterious murders, Mahogany comes home just as he has strangers in his apartment, leading him to maim Jurgis and leaving Maya to flee the scene. Great effort, guys.

Mahogany's murders have been mapped out

After narrowly escaping a meeting with Mahogany's mallet (say that two times fast), Maya goes straight to the police to report that New York has a serial killer in spiffy attire and has train timetables stretching back hundreds of years to back it up. Detective Hadley (Barbara Eve Harris) is having none of it, though, and still gives the impression that there's nothing to be concerned about, establishing that is definitely not the case, and she knows more than she's letting on. Much like Clive Barker's other beloved adapted tale, "Candyman," this is another urban legend being brought to the surface (by a photographer, no less) and ignored by the powers that be.

The difference here, of course, is that Hadley is fully aware of the activities. After being held at gunpoint by Maya, she advises the Mahogany survivor (so far at least) to take the midnight train where she'll find the whereabouts of Jurgis, being careful not to specify what condition he'll be in. With Maya frantically headed off into the unknown, Leon takes a more tactical approach and tools up like Machete to take on Mahogany himself. By way of the secret tunnel to the subway from the slaughterhouse, he ventures armed to the teeth with body plates included, a knight in shining armor for Maya, who has already boarded the train and is searching for the truth.

Mahogany's massive meal ticket

Together, Leon and Maya head through the train, where they find Jurgis hanging from hooks along with several other victims. A battle breaks out between Mahogany and Leon that sees them fight tooth, nail, and severed limb to survive. Eventually, Leon gets the upper hand, throwing Mahogany from the train before it reaches its last stop, ensuring that he'll definitely be back for one final scare. The ominous Conductor, Mahogany's handler of sorts, greets Maya and Leon, who advises his passengers to "step away from the meat," leading them to flee from the train as monstrous creatures board to devour their fresh latest delivery.

Walking through the derelict station, they notice piles of bones, and remnants of a world stretching back centuries, before a final battle between Mahogany (who is still alive) and Leon ensues. With Maya unconscious, Leon stabs his enemy in the neck with one of the many, many bones available, leaving the man-monster to smile with a mouthful of blood. In his dying breaths, Mahogany says one word, "welcome," ushering Leon into a terrifying new journey. Interestingly, this was the second notable character in Jones' career that had remained silent for most of the film until its closing act. Six years earlier, Jones played The Sphinx in Dominic Sena's remake of "Gone in Sixty Seconds," which saw him have a lengthy monologue in the film's closing moments, proving that he's never really needed to say much to get his message across.

Meet the new Mahogany

Struggling to stand from a bittersweet victory, Leon's hopes for safety are dashed when The Conductor (who alone deserved his own spin-off) reveals that these horrific acts were actually carried out to keep greater horrors at bay from the surface world. The monsters that have just had a feeding frenzy have been down here long before the subways were even built, and the bodies are an offering to keep it that way. Like Barker's other iconic villain with a hook for a hand, this one is another misunderstood monster, who in this case, was a necessary evil. With the position now open, The Conductor appoints Leon, firstly by ripping out his tongue, and then removing Maya's heart and holding it in front of her boyfrend as she dies. It's a graphic display of showing just what levels Leon has been degraded to. Without a kindred heart to love, and being permanently silenced from telling the world, Leon has lost everything. 

The final scene shows Hadley handing over the old timetables to a yet-to-be-revealed Mahogany, which turns out to be an alias for the long line of serial killers. After boarding the train and indicating that we are actually seeing the first death shown at the beginning of the film, we can see that Leon has been appointed as the new Subway Butcher with a host of new bodies to deliver before the train takes off down the track.